Ganesan: Thank you for this interesting question.
I can understand that from the common Malay point of view, Hindraf’s significance maybe only the images of the fight they led on Nov 25th against Umno. Once the media lights moved on so did the memories of the common Malay person. However in the case of the Indians Nov 25th 2007 is viewed as a major historic day because of the huge psychological significance of unity and of defiance .
Only the victims in any battle will understand loss. The Indian poor lost everything , their dignity included, over the many years of living lives so close to slavery, after being brought here by the whites. When Merdeka was won, the “Indian near slaves” only saw a change in their masters and a worsening of their living conditions as the big plantations began to break up. The new Masters and new government development priorities saw their conditions deteriorate. They were pushed out of the estates in large numbers. In a recent estimate, about 800,000 Indian plantation workers were forcibly pushed out of their rural communities into the urban areas – poorly equipped for life in a completely alien environment.
Most Malays do not make the difference between the urban educated Indians who form about 25% of the Indians in the country with the poor Indians whom we speak of and whom Hindraf represents. Often you hear statistics about the number of Indian Doctors and Lawyers and of Tony Fernandez and Anandakrishnan. This confuses the problems of the Indian poor and totally wipes out the significance and antecedents of their poverty. The result of this has been a steady deterioration of the problems of the Indian poor. This is one of the major reasons for the significant increase in crime amongst the Indian youth.
The Malay people need to view Hindraf as a Human Rights organization that came about because of the poverty of the Indians from the estates. They do not threaten the well being of any other community. Of course our enemies will present us as the ones demanding an end to Malay special privileges. But when the Malays themselves are now demanding an end to Malay special privileges among the rich and powerful Malays, Hindraf is just the forerunner of brining these more democratic and just values into the country. In an environment of justice, fairness, dignity and equality, everyone will prosper. Hindraf is a patriotic organization that seeks to contribute to building a nation on a solid foundation of social justice.
Question 2: How can Hindraf be an Indian right-wing pressure group demanding for special ‘rights’ for Indians while maintaining a Malaysian identity, support meritocracy and oppose the NEP-led affirmative actions? Isn’t that hypocritical?
Ganesan: Thank you for the question.
“How can Hindraf be an Indian right-wing pressure group”… We are an Indian rights group. We seek the re-institution of the rights guaranteed under international norms as well as guaranteed in the Malaysian Federal Constitution. That is different than saying we are a right wing group. Right wing usually denotes terror elements of moneyed and vested interests in society. This we clearly are not. We represent the poor and defenceless elements in our society. We have no sympathy for the moneyed groups whatsoever – whether Indians or otherwise.
Let me state here for your knowledge the stated objectives of Hindraf:
1) To bring the Indian poor and marginalized into the mainstream of National Development
2) To eliminate state-sponsored racist and religious supremacist policies.
We do not seek any special rights, just the rights that have been guaranteed us and the practice of equal rights for all citizen in the country. We do not seek special privileges or rights. This is clearly a misunderstanding.
Our driving thoughts are these that compel us to both seek targeted solutions for the Indian poor (which makes us look like we are asking for special rights) and to do it without any sense of conflict in multiracial Malaysia:
1) Many of the problems of the Indian poor are unique – the alarming increase in the involvement in underworld activities of Indian youth is one, large numbers of stateless Indians is another, non-commensurate representation in low skill jobs, breakdown of the social system, destruction of places of worship — whatever the reasons given and highest suicide rate among the ethnic groups.
The collapse of the primary education system for the Indian children is another glaring and unique problem confronting the Indian poor. These problems cannot be cured by general policies or by what we call trickle down approaches, they need a targeted approach. They need specific attention, allocation of funds and resources and appropriate approaches. These are specific problems that require specific solutions. Unless applied in this way the problems will not go away.
All of this is consistent with the national objective of building a strong and resilient Malaysia.
2) RM1,115 billion have been spent in the last 10 Malaysian Development Plans. There has not been any significant allocation for the development of the Indian poor over the 48 years of the 10 plans. So, we are saying it is time for some funds to be allocated on a targeted basis for the upliftment of the Indian poor. If there are other similar communities, with similar problems, then they need to be addressed in similar ways. We are not asking for exclusive treatment (though our enemies will want to make it look like were doing just that). We are asking for comprehensive and permanent solutions to these problems.
We do not believe we are being hypocritical in any way in any of our approaches. We are a young organization, we are a small, resource lean organization, we do social and poltical work in the area where we started and where there is a great need. Nobody else is taking up the case for the Indian poor – they say they care, but the truth of the matter is that all they are interested in is the votes of these poor people. We do what we do, not by taking away from others, but by restoring justice and fairness where it is rightfully due.
However we let you decide if any of that is hypocritical.
Soalan 3: Berapa ramaikah di kalangan [pemimpin] tertinggi Hindraf yang beragama Kristian? Adakah India Muslim boleh menjadi ahli Hindraf? Mengapakah tidak menyertai party politik yang sedia, yang juga menjaga kepentingan kaum masing-masing?
Ganesan: At the Central Leadership there are no Christian members. This not by design. This is how it has worked itself out. Right from the very beginning when Hindraf was formed, the main objective was to prevent the demolition of Hindu Temples. Indian Christians were not affected by what was then happening and so we have it today that there are no Christian members at the Central Leadership level. We however do have several who are Christians at the next levels of leadership.
We do not define membership by religion. If you subscribe to the objectives of Hindraf you are eligible to be a member. The objectives of Hindraf are:
1) To bring the Indian poor and marginalized into the mainstream of National Development
2) To eliminate state sponsored-racist and religious supremacist policies.
If you subscribe to these objectives you can be a member.
None of the existing political parties truly represent the interests and rights of the Indian poor. All they seem to be interested in is their votes. They manipulate the poor Indians, get their votes and then forget about improving their livelihoods. MIC represents the rich Indians. The other Indian parties on Barisan Nasional side only serve Barisan to get them the Indian votes. They do not serve the interest of the Indian poor. On the Pakatan side there is no effective Indian poor representation – yes there are Indian representatives, but they are representatives who happen to be Indian but who do not serve the interest of the Indian poor.
In summary it would be right to say that there is no political party that serves the interest of the Indian poor in the country.
Soalan 4: Apa masalah besar jika Hindraf mengambil pendekatan lembut dan moderate? Kenapa perlu sentiasa bersifat konfrontasi dan menuntut sesuatu dengan pendekatan bombastik?
Ganesan: This question requires an understanding of how things really work in the world of politics.
We operate in a democratic system where a simple majority is all that is required for you to get the power of decision and control on all Government policy matters.
In this environment, you can see how the minority communities can be disadvantaged. If the minority community is disadvantaged in numbers but is economically strong, then it can buy a share of the power of decision. There are many ways by which this works. To give a simple example — providing a large financial contribution to a candidate who is standing in the elections and make him win as a result. Even though he/she may not belong to the minority community but he/she is now obliged to promote the interest of that community. This is common knowledge.
Now imagine what happens if you are a very small minority and you are not economically strong. Your destiny is entirely at the hands of those who hold a simple majority and you have no choice on this anymore. This is exactly the case with the Indian poor. You ask, you request, you do this behind closed doors, you do this in various ways, moderate methods, you do this in the Cabinet, you do this in the party meetings, but no one really hears. You cannot do anything. Years pass. The end result is a community in distress.
Couple this on the other hand with the policies designed by the community with a simple majority – all policies get slanted to their advantage, all benefits from the Government flows towards them. Opportunities to the minority communities are blocked, are denied, or are removed. You get a very unbalanced situation.
Then one day when the unbalance gets to be so great you suddenly get an explosion of anger against the unfairness and the injustice in the system. That is what you see in recent years. What you have not seen over the previous years past is all the patience and all the behind-the-door discussion and all the moderate and soft approaches that have been used to little benefit. When all that has not produced even small results, the outcome unfortunately is this – the problem spills over on to the streets.
As far as making extreme demands, I must say that extreme or not also depends on one’s point of view. Take this example — when you have half the young Indian children go to schools that are in dilapidated conditions, in cowsheds and in transportation containers, and this is causing a collapse of the foundational education of half the future of the Indian community and there seems to be no sense of urgency to correct this matter on the part of the Government, what do you expect – more patience from us too, less demand than an immediate attention to the problem and adequate allocation of funds to correct the situation so not too many more generations of these children are affected. The net result, over the years, as you can see is the serious criminalization of Indian youth.
Please understand that whatever you see as expressions from Hindraf, we are just reacting according to the seriousness of the situation. Of course the Government will not want you to see that they are doing this to the Indian children. They make us into extremists and our demands to be extreme.
Question 5: How does Hindraf intend to be a functional social activist group or political party when they seem to have alienated both coalitions?
Ganesan: Very good question. Thank you.
Hindraf is not a political party nor does it intend to become one. However we will participate in the political process of the country as a people’s movement.
As a people’s movement we will articulate the needs, interests and rights of people.
In articulating for the people, when we see duplicity and deceit on the part of politicians, we will speak up. You must understand one basic truth about politicians – they are only interested in your votes. They are not necessarily interested in doing what is best for you. As a people’s movement we are not interested in the votes, we are interested in getting for the people what is best for them. There clearly will be times when we do speak up impartially.
Now, think about this, does that make us more or less functional as a social activist group?
Not to alienate one or the other coalition is not our priority, to make sure that the politicians come up with policies in the interest of the people and then they follow through with implementation is our priority. That makes us play our roles more effectively.
Question 6: Having being ignored first by BN and then rejected by PR, what is Hindraf’s next move and what is its political advice or recommendation to its followers and the underclass that it struggles for?
Ganesan: I will be brief on this question.
We will remain ambivalent on this question till it becomes clear who among the two coalitions will support the 5-year Blueprint plans. The political parties are interested in the votes of our followers. We do not see ourselves recommending to our followers to give it to one or the other without there being a quid pro quo as far as their response to our 5-year Blueprint is concerned. It is still too early (now with the Lahad Datu incident) to say that they have rejected our Blueprint. When the jostling gets heavier, we will then be able to more clearly know.
If the response seems too simplistic, take it that I do not want to be read too early on this question.
One thing is for certain – our focus and priority is the “5-year Blueprint to bring the Indian poor into the national mainstream of development”.
N. Ganesan is the Hindraf national advisor.
To read the questions at source, see ‘Soalan-soalan anda (pembaca blog ini) bagi Hindraf ‘.
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Some of the reader questions which have not been put to Ganesan will be forwarded instead to P. Uthayakumar who was detained 514 days under the ISA for his leadership of Hindraf.
Please leave your questions, if you have any, in the Comment box below for Part 2 of the Hindraf Q & A. Thank you.